Music – Thematic Development

EVERY composer of eminence acquires an individual style which dominates his work in spite of any amount of variety in its character and subjects. Nothing more frequently eludes analysis than the basis of individual style ; yet critics with but fair powers of observation do not fail to distinguish the work of familiar composers. Who that knows anything of the creations of those men could think that Beethoven was the composer of an unfamiliar piece which was really the production of Bach, or of Mendelssohn, or of Chopin, or of Liszt? Yet certain composers have successfully imitated the works of others, or even more felicitously the style common to an epoch or a nation; for style is not merely an individual peculiarity. There are styles ancient and modern, styles severe and light; styles harmonic and contrapuntal, styles oriental and barbaric, styles classical and romantic, styles thematic and lyric ; but as it is difficult to select the distinctive element upon which individual style is based, so it is well-nigh impossible to find an example that shall fall exclusively under the head of a single style.

Lyric style is that in which flowing melody is the most prominent feature. It is that which is best adapted for the singing of a simple ballad, although as a style it is not out of place in instrumental music. In contrast to it thematic style is that in which the structure, as a whole, is the product of the musicianly manipulation of a small portion of melody, rhythm or harmony, which is not merely repeated (a plan that is wholly consistent with the lyric style), but is imitated, contrasted with various associated or accompanying ideas, exhibited in new lights — in short, developed. A piece may belong in some portions to the lyric, and in others to the thematic style, and its lyric portions are likely to make the widest popular impression — to display the composer’s spontaneity, inspiration, and mastery of harmony and proportion – but The Art of the

Musician is revealed most convincingly in thematic style. Variations may exhibit in some sense the lyric and thematic style at once, a variation being in itself, perhaps, lyric, but in its relation to the lyric theme, properly thematic; since the working over of the original melody so as to give it a new interest while yet maintaining its identity, is precisely what would be called a form of thematic development.

In the earlier portions of this volume incidental allusion has been made to other processes of development, but for a good understanding of The Art of the Musician, a more thorough investigation must be made of the methods by which composers handle, as their material for the construction of tone-poems, those elements which as such have been hitherto the chief objects of our consideration.

Development in musical composition may be defined as the doing of something with a musical idea that while changing it allows of the recognition of the source of the developed form. Mere repetition is not development ; but however little the change made if it is noticeable at all, the result to which it leads must be considered a development.

And changes that are noticeable under some circumstances may not be so under others. For example, a passage may be reproduced in a new key. Surely the transposition is a change, and hence the second performance may be called a development of the first. But in one sense it is true that we have but a single scale which we are accustomed to use in two modes. An Authentic cadence (see Ex. 47), if it be in accord with the attunement, produces one and the same effect in whatever key it is heard, and the same is true of most uncomplicated musical ideas, at least when heard on the piano. Hence, if the passage be reproduced, say, after a page or two of intervening music involving a natural transition to the key in which the reproduction occurs, the second use of the passage would be considered a repetition in spite of the transposition. That is to say, no noticeable change would have been introduced. But after the playing of a passage in one key, its immediate repetition in every detail except that the second performance is in a new key, would rank as a development. An instance of development of this sort is to be found almost at the very beginning of Beethoven’s Sonata in G, Op. 31, No. 1, where the first twelve measures in the key of G are at once repeated in the key of F. A few changes are introduced, but much of the second sentence is identical with the first except for the transposition ; yet the second, where exactly like the first in every other respect, must still rank as a development of the first because the immediate change to a key so abruptly . introduced and so little related is strikingly noticeable. This, however, is almost the simplest kind of development.

A passage may even be developed by simplification. For example, in Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 28, the first seven beats of the slow movement are reproduced later (measure 67) without harmony, and again (measure 87) without the characteristic rhythmical movement of the bass, each of these new forms being simpler than the original and developed from it.

Such a plan of treating an idea is utilized for the purpose of quieting down an exciting passage, or at the end of some humorous marches where by repeating a strain with omissions of certain notes, and pianissimo, the effect of distance and of retreating is suggested.

The processes by which musical texts are developed are usually forms of what is technically called imitation. That may be defined as a reproduction of some one or more, but not of all, the elements of a brief musical passage. Where all the elements are reproduced we have either a repetition or a variation. The latter term is rather more vague than imitation, and often includes imitation as one of its elements. But variation, as commonly understood, concerns itself with rather longer passages than are the foundations for imitations, and in variation the chief concern is the recognizable display of the fundamental passage, while in imitation the chief concern is development. Still a short passage may be treated by variation as distinguished from imitation. For example, here are two brief passages from Beethoven, Op. 13 and Op. 31, No. 1, showing how the master has developed both by variation. Every note in a) is to be found again in b), yet with additions which increase the interest but in no way obscure the fact that to a large extent b) in each case is a repetition of a), varied.

So many avowed examples of variation are available that further illustration of the subject is unnecessary. For devices of this sort one may examine the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in G, Op. 14, No. 2, or of the Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, or the movement mentioned in an earlier chapter, the first of the Sonata in A flat, Op. 26, which is a little more intricate. As a result of the search, many imitations may be dis-covered, but the variations are so called because they take up a theme of considerable length and so treat it as to have its presence as the underlying feature of the variation always evident. The alteration of a passage by merely reproducing it an octave higher or lower, even in part, would rarely count for more than a repetition.

Imitation is partial reproduction, regardless of the proportion of the part reproduced to the whole. It may be rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, direct, contrary, retrogressive, augmented, contracted, free or strict. But by whatever device the resemblance is introduced, there must be difference or the word imitation is not applicable.

Examine for a moment the trio of Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 28, third movement (Ex. 64). Disregarding the repeat, it consists of twenty-four measures which readily divide into six sections of four measures each. These may be lettered for reference, when it will be seen that considering the melody alone, b) is a strict rhythmic and a partial melodic repetition of a). As it differs from a) in the last two notes, it is an imitation, not a repetition, but c) and e) as far as melody alone goes, are repetitions of b), and so also are d) and f) of a). But the melody is accompanied, and considering melody with accompaniment, there are no repetitions — even the six beats of d) and f) which have identical letters, have the bass notes an octave higher in f) than in d). The whole passage, then, is a simple development by imitation from the germ presented in the first four measures.

A passage in harmonic imitation is given the specific name of sequence. Such a passage usually involves imitation in melody and perhaps in rhythm, as well as in harmony. Examples 65 and 66 afford a simple illustration from Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat, Op. 31, No. 3, first move-ment, where a single germ gives origin to the whole passage ; and one slightly more complex from the same master’s Sonata in G, Op. 31, No. 1, first movement, where two germs, one of two measures, marked a), and the other of one measure, marked b), give origin to the passage.

The rhythm of the melody (left hand part) of the first measure of Ex. 66 is imitated in the third, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and later measures; and the design itself is a free imitation of the striking rhythm of the first measure of the sonata. This with some of its other imitations (the last being from the last movement of the work) may be seen

But by far the most important form of imitation is the melodic, and of that abundant illustration may be drawn from the Beethoven Sonata in G, which has furnished examples of other varieties. Examining again Ex. 66, note that the melody in the left hand from the beginning of the excerpt for nine measures, is imitated in the right hand part beginning with the eleventh measure, at first in strict rhythm, but from the sixteenth measure with a change in rhythm. Example 68 from the slow movement shows a melodic germ (in which may be included the bass melody of two notes) and its imitations. In the last movement the opening thirty-two measures show for half the distance a melody in the upper voice that is at once imitated in a lower part, the imitation jumping to the upper voice for nearly two measures (27th and 28th). (See Ex. 69.) The same antecedent serves as the basis of the next illustration (Ex. 70), but the original theme is not carried far. The ex-ample, however, displays ” canonic imitation ” within itself, and as such has an interest all its own. The first three measures of melody in the bass (counting from middle to middle) are at once imitated in the upper voice, and that strictly except for the b natural which in one case responds to b flat. And as soon as the upper voice ceases to imitate, it becomes itself proposta and for five measures sings what is imitated a measure later by the bass. That old style of composition known as ” canon ” always presented a continuous theme which was imitated according to some law by another voice entering after the leader but before the theme had gone far.

More involved forms of imitation may be passed over with a word and an illustration or two. It is found possible to write imitations with great freedom and have them still capable of showing their origin. A number of antecedents and consequents, all from this saine sonata of Beethoven, Op. 31, No. 1, are displayed in the following excerpts. Example 71 is a free, direct imitation carrying the curve of the melody, but with added notes and a greater range. Example 72 shows several contrary imitations, the answering voice moving in the opposite direction from the leader. Ex-ample 73 shows imitation by contraction, some or all of the notes of the answer being shorter than those of the leader. There is no good example of augmented imitation in the sonata, but the effect is produced by the change of time to Adagio near the close of the last movement, the notes being the same and of the same relative value as in a measure in fast time near the opening of the movement. Example 74 is not from the sonata but from Andre’s work on Musical Theory. It shows retrogressive imitation (and some other points at the same time), the notes after the double bar being the same as those before it read backward. ” Cancrizans ” means ” like a crab,” that is, moving backwards. The music is so constructed that either part may be uppermost indifferently ; [c) is the same as b) but with inverted voices.]

With command of so much of the material and the methods of The Art of the Musician, it is possible to trace out many of the plans of develop-ment used in the construction of a thematic work. The Beethoven Sonata in D, Op. 28, called ” Pastorale,” contains a number of interesting developmental devices, and the student is recommended to secure a copy of the work and to number its measures throughout for reference. A number should be placed before every bar, single or double, just as they are printed and without regard to repetitions or even to the number of beats in the bar, (i. e., whether it is full or but partly filled). Commence anew with number one at the beginning of each movement. There are 462 measures in the first movement, 103 in the second, 70 in the Scherzo, 24 in the Trio, and 212 in the Rondo.

The first ten measures are immediately developed by a dispersion of the harmony and by placing them in a higher (thinner) octave, at 169 by a transposition, and at 179 by a new (minor) mode. The melody in 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9, appears again in 21–26 but with its two parts in reverse order, and rhythmically changed. 31–34 is condensed to 36—38. 40—47 appears varied 48—55. 63—66 appears simplified and over a single bass note (pedal point, although a very brief one) 71—74. The little passage 174—177 is given a new mode and an elaborate bass 184—187, then a new key and one note added to the first melody note (the octave) 188—191, then melody taken to left hand 192—199, then the melody is condensed 200—207, then still further condensed 208—216, then the left hand part has a contrary imitation of the last condensation, the right hand having a still more condensed direct imitation, 225—240.

In the Andante, measures 1 and 2 are found in major at 4 and 5, freely imitated in 10 and 11 (the curve of the melody followed but with new intervals and rhythm), varied at 51 and 52, simplified at 67 and 68 ; and still further at 87 and 88. The rhythm of the second beat of measure 2 may be traced as an influential consideration in 10, 12, 15, 25, and following measures. Compare, also, measures 3 and 89.

In the Scherzo measures 1—16 are enriched in harmony at 17—32, and part of them still more at 57—64. Measures 1—4 give rise to measures 33-44. In the Trio, measures 1–4 are reproduced to some extent in each following group of four measures ; in 5–8, reharmonized and with new ending. Later the two sections of melody appear in reverse order, and the movement of the left hand part is modified.

The first seventeen measures of the Rondo are reproduced from 52 with a few notes added. These are slightly changed in the recurrence beginning at 114. At 169 and at 194 begin parts modelled upon the bass of the opening measures. This bass as found in measures 4–7 is the source of the upper part from 69. The passage 80-114 is such a splendid piece of development work that a part of it will be quoted as Example 75 for the benefit of those who may not have the sonata at hand for the examination of references already given. The real student of The Art of the Musician will not fail to provide himself not only with this one, but with a complete set of the Sonatas of Beethoven.

One is sometimes tempted to wonder if the composer intends all the small features of thematic development that can be discovered in his work by such minute examination as has just been given some of the details of Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata. It is safe enough to assume that the mere habit of composing, of working with musical ideas, to some extent creates, through mental automatism, results such as have been discovered, and it is therefore quite possible that the analyzer may point out some imitations and developments that the composer did not consciously intend. But such instances must be the exceptions, as one will readily admit after an ex-tended examination of many compositions in the thematic style. When great pieces, one after another, display such handling of musical material as has been discovered in the sonata just studied, it becomes evident that art works that live, exert power, and redound to the honor of their composers, have been elaborated with care, skill, and judgment by one who works for the love of his task and because he believes with Michael Angelo that ” Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.” The examination just concluded might easily have been carried much further, and as will be seen from following chapters, there are still other ways of working out thematic development, but the point to be emphasized here is that The Art of the Musician is shown in the creation of master-works by combining elements into themes, themes into passages, passages into movements, and movements into complete compositions. He who can best attend at once to the minor details and the large aggregations, can, as composer, produce the most profound impression, or as listener realize most fully the scope and beauty of the creation.